Sunday, November 15, 2009

Theistic evolution and intelligent design (part 3a): what is Intelligent Design?

First of all, I have to apologize to everyone. I've been out of town for a week, and haven't been too frequent with my postings. Note that it took me about three weeks just to finish up a summary of our last meeting about the origin of life.

Now, where to begin when talking about Intelligent Design? First, we have to differentiate between intelligent design and the Intelligent Design Movement.

To me, the words "intelligent design" simply mean that a supernatural, causal, intelligent agent created this universe, and perhaps has a hand on the unfolding of history. This is seemingly uncontroversial, as most Christians should agree with this, and most anyone who truly believes in God likely does as well. In addition, even most atheists respect the fact that many people believe in God, and thus do not find fault with belief in an intelligent agent. In other words, believing in "intelligent design" in the most generic sense should not be a big deal, nor should it subject you to ridicule.

The "Intelligent Design Movement" (IDM) on the other hand is a completely different animal. This appears to be a group of people (mostly scientists, I suppose; the most prominent of whom is Dr. Michael Behe, professor of biochemistry at Lehigh University) that has a political agenda. Maybe that's going a bit too far, but it does explain why intelligent design has faced major opposition. Simply put, the IDM wants to force the teaching of creationism in high school biology classes.

I have no problem with that. Except for the fact that the ideas of the IDM are not scientifically defensible. At this point. A commenter from my last post asked me what I meant by "scientifically defensible". This was in response to my saying a couple times that my discussion of the origin of life was intellectually compelling but not scientifically defensible (see here and here), and I likened that to the IDM.

So here's what I meant. The hypotheses held by the IDM are mostly negative explanations regarding the veracity of biological evolution. They offer no way to test their hypotheses, and thus it boils down to "some biological features found in nature look so complex, there's no way naturalistic evolution could have resulted in that; it must have been God creating it." They offer no counter explanations that can be tested, and thus, it is quite difficult to publish in peer-reviewed, scientific journals (much less overthrow a scientific paradigm) if you have no hope of testing/falsifying your hypotheses. In summary, they don't offer an alternative model!

And here's the kicker. If you can't publish in the peer-reviewed scientific journals, then you cannot get into high school curricula. The proper way to make your way into the textbooks is to publish in the peer-reviewed journals, then get into cutting-edge graduate level classes, and then finally trickle down through the undergraduate levels to the high school level. The IDM is trying to circumnavigate this whole process and make their way straight into high school biology classrooms. That's not how science is done. They're playing at politics, and they're losing. What's worse, they're losing for the rest of us (more on this later). Scientific theories must be peer-reviewed, must be testable/falsifiable, and must stand the test of time.

This post is getting quite long, so I'll stop here. Next time, I'll go into more detail about what the IDM proponents should do to be taken seriously.